TOUR HIGHLIGHTS - Focus Japan + Gourmet Special Review 7D5N Itinerary 

Travel date: 24th to 31st March 2023


  • UNESCO World Heritage Site - Kiyomizu Temple
  • Arashiyama Bamboo Grove
  • Ninja Village
  • Ama’s Hut at Hachiman Kamado
  • Oshino Hakkai (eight ponds located in the Fuji Five Lakes area)
  • Sensoji Temple (Asakusa Kannon Temple in Tokyo)


  • DIY sushi
  • Ninja experience
  • Bullet train ride
  • Isewan ferry ride
  • Fruit Picking (strawberries)
  • Natural Onsen


  • New Miyako Hotel (Kyoto), 3-star hotel - 4.1 stars on Google Review
  • Misugi Onsen Resort (Tsu), 3-star hotel - 3.9 stars on Google Review
  • Okura Act City Hamamatsu Hotel (Hamamatsu), 4-star hotel - 4.1 stars on Google Review
  • Fuji Matsuzono Hotel (Yamanakako), 3-star hotel - 4.2 stars on Google Review
  • MyStays Premier Narita Hotel (Narita), 3-star hotel - 4.2 stars on Google Review


  • Ginza
  • Shinjuku
  • Factory Outlet


  • Pufferfish cuisine
  • Exclusive Ama seafood cuisine - Grilled abalone and lobster
  • Traditional unagi cuisine
  • Izakaya cuisine
  • Deluxe kaiseki crab cuisine
Overview and verdict: This was my second time with Apple Vacations tour, having been to Hokkaido and Tokyo the last time in the early summer of 2016. I made a series of blog posts for the tour then, which you can find here. The tour was fully booked and there were close to 40 of us altogether. I found myself underwhelmed with the quality of some of the meals. It's difficult to overlook the standards of the places we visited when the tour was marketed as a culinary experience. Additionally, we had to rush through certain destinations, which was another letdown. I had high hopes since the last tour was a really great experience. Despite these shortcomings, I must commend the professionalism and helpfulness of our tour leader and tour guide from Apple, especially since we were travelling with prams and a wheelchair.

If you're keen on delving into the nitty-gritty details, I'll provide them below. We mainly travelled via tour bus, unless otherwise noted.



Our journey began with a full MAS flight from Kuala Lumpur to Kansai Airport. The flight departed at 10pm+, but alas, we faced some delays due to traffic at the KLIA - approximately 20 to 30 minutes. While I've never had trouble sleeping on flights before, this time was an exception. The aircraft lights were kept on for the majority of the flight, making it almost impossible to catch some shut-eye unless you had an eye mask or could ignore the glaring lights. Furthermore, service time was significantly longer compared to our return flight, leaving me with at most an hour or two of sleep.



Our journey continued as we arrived at Kansai Airport in the early morning, where some COVID-19 restrictions were still in effect. To ensure a smooth entry into Japan, our tour leader ensured that completed all necessary paperwork through the 'Visit Japan Web' platform prior to departure. While the process was fairly seamless, it took us about an hour to clear immigration and customs.

Unfortunately, our first glimpse of Japan this time was rather lacklustre. The weather was gloomy with a drizzle, and to add insult to injury, some of our fellow travellers were running late. As it turns out, someone had left something on the aircraft, causing a delay. 

My optimism regarding the weather was misplaced, as the gloom persisted throughout the day. To make matters worse, I made a rookie mistake by not taking my umbrella out of my checked-in luggage, which was stowed away on the tour bus. By the time I realised my blunder, it was too late and we had to make our way without it. To remedy the situation, we were forced to purchase new umbrellas - but at least they looked pretty (they're transparent :D).


Our first destination was the Kiyomizu Temple. As we made our way up, the steep and busy lanes of the Higashiyama District proved to be a challenge, especially under the persistent rain. Not the best of starts. And to make matters even more difficult, we had to navigate the slippery streets while pushing a wheelchair. But with a bit of perseverance, it's absolutely doable. However, it's worth noting that the climb up to the temple can be quite arduous as there are numerous stairs to conquer.


Next on our itinerary was the Chionin Temple. The colossal structure you see is the Sanmon Gate - the main entrance to the temple grounds, which provided us with ample shelter from the unrelenting rain where we were greeted by the impressive Sanmon Gate - the main entrance to the temple grounds. There are two gardens here but we were only here for a while before we adjourned. 


I couldn't find the name of this place due to the lack of pictures. For starters, it probably wasn't the best idea to have a 'making your own sushi' class as our first meal in Japan, especially if we didn't have any food beforehand. Personally, I found it a bit challenging to enjoy my sushi creation on an empty stomach. At the end of the session, we were all awarded certificates for participating. One thing that stood out from this experience was the issue of clogged toilets and sinks, which was a major inconvenience. Big yikes.


We then moved on to Arashiyama, but unfortunately, the rain was still persistent. Frankly, at this point it was getting... annoying. There were still plenty of tourists braving the rain with their umbrellas. Now imagine this: People with their own umbrellas squeezing into the same place all at once. The situation made it challenging to navigate through the crowded Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, so I sadly chose not to go... this time. Wait for me, Arashiyama. I will be back.

Looking back, I realised that the items sold at Arashiyama were actually quite reasonably priced compared to other tourist destinations we visited later on. In fact, the prices at Oshino Hakkai were rather exorbitant and even higher than what we encountered in Tokyo.

Pufferfish cuisine dinner at Ganko Sanjo Honten

No surprises - my favourite was the pufferfish (fugu) sashimi. It was my first time having pufferfish and it came around the same time when there was news about an elderly couple in Malaysia who died after eating pufferfish, unknowingly. For individuals who are unfamiliar, fugu is a delicacy but it is also a dangerous one. It's worth noting that only qualified chefs are allowed to prepare and serve fugu in Japan, and for good reason. 

The fugu flesh was quite chewy and its texture reminded me of frogs, and the sashimi were all thinly sliced. 

Once you're done with the hot pot, you can request for the chef to use the remaining soup to cook porridge. Personally, I was already stuffed. Shame, as this place also serves sashimi and I was really tempted to get some. 

NEW MIYAKO HOTEL (4.1 stars on Google Reviews)

As we arrived in Kyoto, we found ourselves at the New Miyako Hotel, strategically situated opposite the Kyoto Station. With the night ahead of us, we ventured out in search of local delicacies, but to our disappointment, most eateries were closed or about to close. We wandered around looking for options.

We went back and forth for a bit until my sister and I finally settled on this place called Yakiniku Yaruki. We actually waited for about 10 to 15 minutes for a table. Turns out to be a great decision in the end and we definitely found a gem.

The meat was fantastic and the sauces were on point. Plus, they had an English menu, which made things even better. Honestly, I wish I had more meals like this throughout the trip. It might have been my favourite meal overall.


Hotel Breakfast at New Miyako Hotel

Out of all the hotels we stayed at during the trip, this was the only one that had more than one option for breakfast. And guess what? They had three options! We had some miscommunication though, and ended up going to the one that had international options mixed in.

Iga-ryu Ninja Village

We rode the pink ninja train at the Uenoshi Station for a complete ninja experience. Regrettably, I took very few photos due to our tight schedule. Not kidding when I said we were rushing for time.  Realised I took very few photos of the surrounding here because we were rushing most of the time. At the Danjiri Museum, we had the chance to don the iconic ninja attire which took time to properly tie and fasten before we hurried up a hill to witness the scheduled ninja performance at the Iga Ninja Museum. We almost didn't make it. Photography was prohibited in most of these venues, hence the lack of pictures.

The silver lining? The sun was beginning to show itself.  

Lunch: Sukiyaki

As I mentioned, I was pretty disappointed with some meals. This one particular restaurant, located at a rest stop (if memory serves), left a lot to be desired. The slices of sashimi were subpar, while the pork slices were disappointingly tough. Suffice to say, I didn't particularly enjoy this meal, though we did manage to salvage the experience somewhat by grabbing a good deal on strawberries outside the restaurant.

Nabana no Sato

The weather forecast had initially predicted a gloomy day with scattered showers, but fortunately, we were blessed with nearly perfect weather conditions during our visit to Nabana no Sato. It turned out to be a fantastic day, and we also explored the Begonia Garden within the premises.

For those with a penchant for flowers, this place was a paradise of photo opportunities. The blooms were so abundant, it was truly a sight to behold.

Dinner at Hinotani Onsen Misugi Resort (3.7 stars on Google Reviews)

The dinner at the hotel was a full-course kaiseki, with the dishes served one after another throughout the night. While the portions were generous, the quality of the food was not as impressive as I had hoped. I've had better kaiseki meals before, to be honest.

The highlight of dinner was perhaps when the staff welcomed guests to join in the creation of glutinous rice cake, which was later served as dessert.

The hotel had an onsen, but I decided to skip it. However, if you're interested, it's available. The tatami mattresses were surprisingly comfortable, and the ventilation was better than at other hotels we stayed at. The only thing was that the room felt a bit eerie due to the lack of lighting. On the bright side, the hotel provided yukatas for guests to wear (just get them from the lobby area), and they were great for photo opportunities.

Day 4

Breakfast at Hinotani Onsen Misugi Resort

The breakfast buffets were a bit underwhelming and lacked variety, as we've come to expect on this trip. his was the only hotel that imposed mask-wearing. They even make everyone use disposable gloves. On a positive note, we did appreciate the addition of roe to the menu.


If you're anything like me and don't have a particular interest in pearls, you might still find Mikimoto Pearl Island fascinating. One of the unique draws of this place is the opportunity to witness "sea women," or ama, diving in their traditional white outfits. It's worth checking the schedule to ensure you catch one of these demonstrations during your visit.  Just make sure to check the schedule beforehand so you don't miss out.

Lunch at Ama Hut "Hachiman Kamado"

This part of the trip was the real standout for me. The ama culture is absolutely fascinating, especially when you consider that the number of divers is rapidly declining and most of them are in their golden years. We had the privilege of meeting a 92-year-old ama diver, which was truly remarkable.

It's a rare opportunity to be in the company of ama, and I am grateful for the chance to witness their enduring work ethic and hospitality. Despite their advancing years, these women work tirelessly and welcome visitors with open arms. While some locals may be wary of tourism, the ama are anything but.  That, and coupled with good, fresh seafood. What's not to like? It's an experience that's hard not to enjoy.


We were cutting it close when we rushed to catch the Isewan Ferry, but we made it just in time (phew!). The ferry was pretty cool, with buses and other vehicles being able to drive right onto it. But I gotta admit, the ride was a bit shaky and made me feel dizzy when I sat inside. Lounging around outside was a much more enjoyable experience with the added bonus of breathtaking views.


Next stop: strawberry farm. Don't really have time to catch a break. Those strawberries were sweet enough that we didn't even need the condensed milk they gave us to dip 'em in. Since it's Japan, all of us felt confident enough that the strawberries were clean and safe to eat without any washing. Surely we wouldn't have done that if we were in Malaysia... or will we? 


The Shinkansen experience was surprisingly smooth from start to finish. Some people on social media had mentioned difficulties finding lifts at the station, but thankfully we had a tour guide with us who made it easy. Boarding and getting off the train was a breeze and we didn't have to wait long either. Despite not running at full speed, the ride from Toyohashi to Hamamatsu (only 1 station away) was still a treat - a smooth and comfortable ride on this engineering marvel.

Unagi meal dinner at Eel and Japanese Uoka'-chan (May One building)

The place we visited was rated 3.5 stars on Google Review and I totally get it. It wasn't bad, but nothing to write home about either. It didn't leave a lasting impression on me. However, I'm thankful that we squeezed in a quick stop at May One department store before dinner, even though we had only 30 minutes to spare (which wasn't really enough time). It was our only opportunity to grab some treats, including the must-try unagi pie when in Hamamatsu.

Okura Act City Hamamatsu Hotel (4.1 stars on Google Review)

We made our way to the Okura Act City Hotel on foot from the JR Hamamatsu station. The view from our room was pretty sweet. Hamamatsu is definitely not a dead town, unlike some of the other places we stayed in.

We had some time to kill, so we decided to take a stroll around the area. But when we returned to May One, it was already closing. So, we were left wondering where to grab a bite to eat. But eventually, we decided to take a chance on a random spot.

トリノジョージハママツミナミグチエキマエテン (鶏のジョージ 浜松南口駅前店)

When it came to supper, we were unfortunately underwhelmed in comparison to the yakiniku we had previously. It could be the reason why this particular place only managed to score a 3.1-star rating on Google. Although the restaurant had an extensive selection of food, it was a bit daunting to decipher the menus, all of which were written in Japanese.


Breakfast at Okura Act City

The food served at the hotel's banquet hall just didn't quite hit the mark. In fact, it was so underwhelming that I didn't even bother taking any pictures.

As we made our way to Gotemba Premium Outlet, we caught a glimpse of Mt. Fuji from our bus. It was a fleeting moment, but one that left a lasting impression because it was only at this brief moment we were able to catch this elusive mountain that seemed to play hide and seek with us. 


This place is massive. We were given a few hours to shop, I came out empty-handed as did most of the tour mates. There were no sales, and from a quick scan, everything seemed quite pricey (I'm a humble peasant).

金時力まんじゅう (Kintoki-tei restaraunt)

See that thing on the bottom right? Apparently, this place is famous for that. It's the kintori chikara manjyuu (buns of rice cake). They also sell these as souvenirs but they were sold out. Unfortunately, the restaurant serving kamameshi meals didn't quite live up to my expectations. Despite the impressive portion and variety, the experience was a letdown. To add insult to injury, the food was served cold, leaving me feeling unsatisfied. 

Oshino Hakkai 

It was pretty crowded in the main areas of this place. Unfortunately, it started drizzling halfway through our visit, so the sky looks pretty dull in our pictures. Also, it was only after we were back from the trip that I learned that we were supposed to be able to spot Mt. Fuji from this place. I'm so bummed.

There are tons of restaurants, souvenir shops, and food stands around the place. We didn't have much time, so we couldn't explore all the ponds. I found that everything here was pretty expensive, even more so than in Tokyo - probably because of how touristy this place is.


Not much to say about dinner except that it was decent. The star of the show was supposed to be the snow crab, which was served alongside other dishes like sukiyaki and grilled beef.

While some guests may enjoy a breathtaking view of Mount Fuji from their rooms, unfortunately, we were not among them. It was disappointing, but the weather wasn't on our side that day.

In terms of location, I'd say this is a bit of a "wilderness." There isn't much around here, and the nearest convenience store is a 10 to 15-minute walk away. Plus, it can be quite dark and dangerous due to fast-moving cars. Our room was spacious, as we shared it with our parents, but I wasn't too fond of the location. However, I understand the appeal. Perhaps I'm just a bit salty because we didn't get to see Mount Fuji and got stuck in the wilderness.

Day 6

Breakfast at Fuji Matsuzono Hotel

For the first time during this trip, there was takoyaki! Okay, I was a little thrilled because finally, we have something different. 

Sensoji (Asakusa Kannon Temple)

The Sensoji Temple was a familiar sight for us, having visited it on a previous trip to Japan. However, this time we only had a brief moment to pass by. There were just sooooo many people and the main area was so crowded that it was challenging to navigate through. It was evident that everyone was drawn to Tokyo's vibrant energy. I must confess, I'm a city girl. I understand the allure of the bustling metropolis.

Lunch at Zenibako BBQ Ginza

The ambience of this place was simply delightful, with a charming and quaint atmosphere. Although it was primarily a BBQ establishment, it was unfortunate that we didn't get to sample any of their grilled offerings. The food was satisfying overall. From the sashimi alone, it seems that the cuts were notably superior to what we had experienced thus far on the trip. I couldn't help but wish that we had gotten the chance to try their BBQ dishes as well!


On our previous visit to Japan 7 years ago, our tour guide introduced us to GU at Ginza. It's a sister company of Uniqlo but with more affordable prices. We were excited to visit GU again during this trip, hoping for another shopping spree. The store had a great selection of clothing at very reasonable prices back then. However, this time around, we didn't see much of a discount and the prices were just okay.

Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden 

My family didn't wander around much but stuck to the main areas. Our tour group wanted to spend less time here as we had already seen a fair share of gardens on the trip. Ironically, it was during this part of the trip when a couple got lost and delayed us. Oh well. But, I really liked the landscape here. The weather was perfect and it was heartening to see so many people out having a good time picnicking and relaxing.


Tokyo is amazing, and I think I've grown to have a soft spot for the city. One thing that makes it even better is the abundance of Lawson convenience stores that are so easily accessible. I have to say, I'm a big fan of the confectionery they sell there. It brings back fond memories of my time in Hokkaido. On our tour, our guide mentioned that we passed by Kabukicho, which is known as the red-light district. He was considerate enough to keep in mind that we had kids in the group lol.

Kaiseki crab dinner at Kani Douraku 

How come this place was so familiar? Well, it was because we've been here during the last tour

It's interesting how memories of a place or food can stick with us over time, and it can be disappointing when the reality doesn't live up to our expectations. While there were some new items on the menu, what struck me most was the crab rice. In my memory, it was an outstanding dish and one of the highlights of my previous meal. However, this time around, I found the rice to be disappointingly lacking in flavour and texture. It begs the question: what happened? Despite the disappointment, I still enjoyed the meal and appreciated the opportunity to revisit an old favourite.

MyStays Premier Narita Hotel

Our lodging for the final night was rather disappointing. The ventilation left much to be desired, and even the air purifier provided little relief. No prize for those who guessed that this hotel was selected primarily for its proximity to Narita Airport.

Day 7

Breakfast at MyStays Premier Narita Hotel

I actually love the selection offered for breakfast here and it was a nice change. However, the management of the crowd in the dining area was subpar. The queue was excruciatingly long and the establishment was clearly struggling to accommodate the influx of guests. It took us a good 20-30 minutes to get a table and we only managed to secure one by awkwardly squeezing ourselves around a small one.

Flight back to KLIA from Narita Airport via Malaysia Airlines

I couldn't help but notice the superior quality of the aircraft. The seats boasted more legroom, the screens were more modern, and even the overhead compartments were taller. It could be because this was a shared coach, but either way, I like it. I must commend the pilots. They had skillfully manoeuvred the plane during takeoff and landing, and we didn't experience any ear barotrauma. The entire process was smooth and seamless, making for a comfortable and enjoyable flight.